THE NUMBER of part-time teachers has increased dramatically, probably as a result of a surge in teachers approaching retirement and declining pupil numbers which cuts budgets.
A Local Government Association (LGA) report* shows an unprecedented 15 per cent rise in part-time staff during 2006, compared to just a 1.4 per cent rise in teachers who work the full week.
The study also revealed that the overall teacher workforce has increased by a fifth in England and Wales over the last decade, from 422,734 in 1996 to 505,896 today. And there has been an accompanying improvement in pupil-teacher ratios from 18:1 in 2001 to 17:1in 2005.
Les Lawrence of the LGA said: "With more teachers than ever and smaller class sizes, schools and councils can be cautiously optimistic."
But it is the increase from 85,642 to 98,470 part-timers - more than double the previous year's rise - that stands out. It affects both primaries (a 14 per cent increase) and secondaries (an 11 per cent rise).
Professor John Howson, a specialist in teacher recruitment, said: "I think it is partly to do with cost. As pupil numbers have fallen there are more primaries that can only afford a part-timer.
"We have also got a very large number of people in their fifties who may be prepared to work part-time as a way of easing down to retirement."
Nigel Middleton, director of the Head Support consultancy which works with more than 3,000 headteachers, noticed a surge in the number of teachers requesting to go part-time last year.
"Ten to 15 years ago heads could turn down a teacher who wanted reduced hours because there were enough teachers around," he said. "Today, you will probably have to agree to their request."
Higher pay and new pension flexibilities were making part-time work more attractive, while workforce remodelling was making it easier for heads to plug the gaps with support staff.
"It has become a sellers' rather than a buyers' market," Mr Middleton said.
"You are seeing it with teachers now, and you will see it with heads and deputies over the next two to three years."
Professor Alan Smithers, an education employment expert from Buckingham university, said the use of part-timers could benefit heads as it would make it easier for them to adapt their workforce in response to falling pupil numbers,.
But full-timers might end up with extra work. "It is something that needs to be watched," he said.
The report, conducted on behalf of employers, teaching unions and the Government and based on a survey of more than 6,000 schools, also suggested a decline in mobility among teachers. The percentage of full-time permanent staff moving to a job at another state school fell in 2005 - the latest year for which figures were available - for the fourth year running.
*The 'Survey of teacher resignations and recruitment 19856-2005' will be postedJatJwww.lga.gov.uk